Well, my plans of a regular blog of this trip were thwarted by the fact that the southern half of Shikoku and the wifi network are apparently strangers to one another. I suppose it may have been easier to get online had we been sleeping in lovely, comfortable, soft, clean, yummy hotel beds but we were not. Since Kochi we have only had two nights paid accommodation - in a ryokan in Uwajima - which had no internet connection. The remainder of the time we have been sleeping in the tent or in other free accommodation and all our efforts (aside from the obvious walking stuff) have been devoted to finding somewhere to wash and satisfying more-or-less continual hunger pangs rather than Facebook and blogging.
|Communications are not|
always cutting edge
Refreshed after our stay in the hotel we caught the train back to Temple 28, Dainichi, to resume our walk. This was going to be a special day for us. When we set out to cycle the pilgrimage last September, it was at Kochi that we admitted, after a huge argument, that we had had enough and had given up the pilgrimage. Today we would walk past the place we had given up. This time we felt completely different and I realised how glad I was that Mick had suggested we come back to Shikoku and give ourselves and the pilgrimage another chance.
Between Temple 29 and 30 we reached 'give up hut'. It was here last year that the guidebook had been flung into a clump of bamboo trees and then had to be fished out again by Mick dangling me off the side of the road. We had hung up our henro jackets in the hut and cycled off without a second look back. Now we stopped at the hut for photos and a celebratory segment of orange before jauntily heading on to the next temple in fine fettle.
|At 'give up' hut. Not giving up. Not yet anyway.|
as I mentioned last year and which I'll talk about again in a later post. It's one of the things that makes this walk so special). She asked where we were headed and when we explained she pointed at the map and at the road and we thought she said (in Japanese) 'Oh but the ferry isn't running today, you'll need to walk over the bridge.'
We changed course and headed for the bridge. We had not walked far on it before we realised that we were in immediate risk of death or serious injury. The 'pavement' was only inches wide and our heads exactly level with the wing mirrors of the countless lorries that were thundering past us. Feeling panicky I looked down only to see the ferry chugging merrily out of the port below. More oaths of the non-pilgrim sort were uttered before we retreated from the scary bridge to wait an hour for the next boat. What the woman had actually said to us we never did discover.
That evening it was gone five o'clock and we sat outside a convenience store on a little wall debating where to stop for the night. A man on his bicycle stopped and asked us where we would camp. We said we didn't know and he told us to go up to Temple 35 and ask the head monk for the tatami room. The heady scent of orange blossom filled the air as we climbed the steep winding path to the temple in the fading light, passed on the way by the last pilgrims of the day as they made their way back down. It had been good advice - the temple was beautiful and the facilities provided were excellent - a private room to sleep, a large seating area and a sink and kettle, all for free. And in the morning we watched the first light enter the valley below from the terrace below the temple with no sound except the singing of birds. I sat for a long time by the fishpond, watching pond skaters delicately crossing the water and a spider catching a fly in its web.
The temples were more widely spaced now as we made our way down the second pointy bit of Shikoku, Cape Ashizuri. Facilities were sparser too as we neared the Cape, and it was too late that we realised we had passed our last chance for the day of something to eat. We ate a sparse supper of twelve almonds each, consoling ourselves that tomorrow we would make an early start and get to the shop when it opened at nine. Except it was Wednesday. Apparently, as we were informed by the nice lady in the post office, the shop did not open on Wednesdays. We had to content ourselves with a packet of 'Calorie-Mate' which quite frankly tasted disgusting, until we finally reached the Cape and to our relief found a small restaurant serving food.
|Unloading the catch|
|Smoking saba (mackerel)|
|The beloved Terra Nova needs repairing|
|The 'half price' sticker is useful to learn|
|This little fella popped out when I went to wash...|
|Tunnels do the job but are not pleasant...|
|Kukai sleeping under a bridge|
|This church is fibreglass!|
|Enormous trees on the path to Iwayaji|
|Tea grower near Iwayaji|
By the time the rain started in earnest we were down the mountain and on the outskirts of Matsuyama. We meandered about from temple to temple, accompanied by a very nice young chap called Kenji who was from Tokyo and who spoke excellent English. Kenji seemed totally unfazed by the rain as we got wetter and wetter as we walked along. If we had been on our own we would have taken refuge somewhere long ago. We asked him if he wanted to stop for for something to eat but he said he usually skipped lunch. Eventually we apologised to him and said we were bailing out and headed off in search of something to eat. It was gone three and most of the restaurants were closing. As we stood there wondering what to do a woman pulled over and asked if we were going to the next temple. We shook our heads and explained we were hungry. She motioned for us to get in her car and then she drove us down the road to a lovely udon bar where we sat for two hours stuffing our faces on noodles and tempura until the rain went off. We visited Temple 50 and then headed to 51 where we had heard there was a beautiful tsuyado (free accommodation). The monk at the temple verified we were walking pilgrims and carefully took our names and addresses before showing us to a large room above a storehouse at the back of the temple complex with blankets on the floor. It did not look very inviting, perhaps we had been spoilt by Temple 35. When we realised there was no electricity there either we decided not to stay and instead headed on to the superb Sen Guesthouse a day earlier than planned. Although they were fully booked Matthew and Nori, our hosts, were wonderfully accommodating and made up a bed for us in the staff room. What a joy it was to sit at the table chatting with the other guests while supping wine and whisky which went straight to my head after six weeks of abstinence. A few days here would surely recharge our batteries for the next section of our walk.
Ps. I forgot to say that somewhere along the way, when we were near Ashizuri, I celebrated my 51st birthday. Mick presented me with a surprise 'cake' in the form of a cream crêpe and as it was a special day I treated myself to an extra ten minutes in bed, and got up at twenty to five instead of half past four. We were still asleep by half-past seven that evening though and it is the first birthday I have celebrated without alcohol since about 1979!